From This Day Onward
If you look hard, you might find Haggai.
Tucked near the end of the Old Testament, third from last on that biblical road-less-traveled called the minor prophets, it’s one of Scripture’s shortest books — and one of its best for turning a corner and making a fresh start. Like at the outset of a new year.
If you can find your way to Haggai, his prophetic words might be just the inspiration you need for moving into 2014, not with willpower determination, but faith-filled resolve. Though it’s hardly two full pages in most printed Bibles, this short book packs some serious punch for leaning forward into a new calendar with the eyes of faith and a heart of hope.
Here are three ways of stating the one focused challenge from this little-known, minor prophet, relevant for 2014.
1. Change Your Tune
The first wave of exiles had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in 538 B.C. Now, some twenty years later, the temple still lay in ruin. Instead of rebuilding God’s house, the people were pouring their energies and monies into renovating their own houses. They were saying that “the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD” (Haggai 1:2).
But the Lord begged to differ. First comes the rhetorical question: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4). Then follows the command: “Build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified” (Haggai 1:8).
The threshold of the new year can be a time to examine ourselves: Is there something God has been increasingly calling me to, but I’ve been saying, “The time has not yet come” (1:2)? Is there something on my heart to build, or to engage, so that God “may take pleasure in it and that [he] may be glorified”? In what ways am I building my own kingdom, while neglecting God’s? Might he be withholding some blessing because his house “lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house” (Haggai 1:9)?
Perhaps this prick from Haggai would inspire you not to put off any longer in this new year what God has been drawing you toward. Is it now time, at the outset of 2014, to change your tune from the excuse “the time has not come” to the resolve “the time has now come”?
2. Turn from the Past
Haggai 2 begins with a second oracle from God. Some of the people were old enough to have seen the former temple, and they could tell already that this makeshift reconstruction operation by the remnant could not compare “the former glory” (Haggai 2:3). It’s as if they were humming Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” — which has a great beat and catchy tune, but is a sad soundtrack for real life.
As a new year dawns, we should remind ourselves that for God’s people, the glory days lie ahead, not behind. Whether it’s the remnant of returned exiles looking back to Solomon’s temple, or the retro Reformed gazing endlessly at the Puritans, or conservative Boomers daydreaming nostalgically about the 1950s, Christians need not be caught singing “Glory Days” as if our best times lie in the past. Whatever glory we’ve seen, whatever tastes of grace we’ve had, whatever sentimental feelings we have about some bygone era, whether 2013 or decades ago, it is not worth our ceaseless attention, or grumbling about how things aren’t now what they used to be.
For the Christian, the best is always yet to come. We have reason to have more real hope than any other people on the planet for what is ahead in the next year, the next decade, the next century, and for all eternity.
The grace of God, manifest in Jesus, is our rock-solid liberation from crippling nostalgia and from bellyaching about the “former glory.” By faith, we expect a latter glory that far outstrips the little foretastes of the glory we’ve had so far.
3. Dream into the Future
And so in faith, we change our tune, turn from the former glory, and strain toward what’s ahead, resting in the promise of God’s empowering. Again Haggai speaks.
Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (Haggai 2:4–5)
Here the charge beautifully captures the Christian faith-work dynamic for good new year’s resolves, and the promise of the covenant points to a strength and hope all the more true for the new-covenant Christian.
“Work, for I am with you” (Haggai 2:4) goes straight to the heart of what can make a resolution truly Christian. Work, because I’m at work in you. It’s Haggai who Paul remixes in Philippians 2:12–13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In both the apostle and the prophet, it’s the presence of God than energizes and inspires our exertion of effort to fulfill godly resolves.
And so we pray with Paul for the faith-powered completion of Christian resolutions: “that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12).
A New Day Dawns
In Jesus, we can turn from the past and dream into the future, and say with Haggai, as he does three times, in 2:15–19, “From this day onward . . .” For the Christian, any today can mark a new era. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7; Hebrews 3:7, 15). With the crucified and risen Lord on his throne as the king of the universe, and his Spirit alive and on the move, any today can signal a new tomorrow when pursued in faith.
And for God’s pleasure and glory, the beginning of a new year is just as good a day as any to make the faith-filled resolve, From this day onward.
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